Story: Birds of mountains and open country

New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the kea, is well known for its comical and destructive antics, tearing wiper blades off cars and disembowelling backpacks. The tiny rock wren is a member of the ancient New Zealand wren family, and the pipit is found in open areas from beaches to the high country. The welcome swallow is a recent arrival which builds distinctive mud nests.

Story by Christina Troup
Main image: Kea flying

Story summary

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Birds of mountains and open country

Native birds that live in open country – mountain zones, tussock grasslands, shrublands, wide river beds, beaches and farmland – include:

  • kea
  • rock wrens
  • New Zealand pipits
  • welcome swallows.

Introduced species such as skylarks, game birds and magpies can also be found.

Extinct species

Native birds that once lived in open country, but are now extinct, include:

  • moa
  • flightless geese
  • New Zealand ravens
  • laughing owls.

Kea – the mountain parrot

Kea live in the South Island’s mountains – they are an alpine parrot. They were named by Māori after their call – ‘ke-aa’.

Kea antics

Kea are intelligent, curious and playful. They slide on hut roofs, kick snow onto people’s heads, and steal shiny metal objects. They also break into containers like rubbish bins, looking for food. Kea will tear up tents, backpacks and clothing, and pull rubber wiper-blades off cars.

Kea and sheep

Kea sometimes attack sheep. At one time they were blamed for problems with farming, and many were shot. Today they are protected from hunting.

Rock wren

Tiny rock wrens are found high in the South Island’s mountains. They live in gaps under boulders, which shelter them from winter snows. They make complicated nests out of grass, moss, leaves and tussock, lined with feathers, with a small tunnel as the entrance. Rock wrens are from the ancient New Zealand wren family, which was already in New Zealand when it split from the Gondwana supercontinent, 85 million years ago.

New Zealand pipit

New Zealand pipits live near beaches, in grasslands and on open river beds. Lively birds which wag their tails up and down constantly, they mainly eat insects. They are grey-brown with white eyebrows.

Welcome swallow

Welcome swallows arrived in New Zealand in the 1950s, probably from Australia. They use mud to build their cup-shaped nests, which hang from vertical surfaces such as walls. In winter, they form large flocks and fly where they can find food.

How to cite this page:

Christina Troup, 'Birds of mountains and open country', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Christina Troup, published 24 September 2007, reviewed & revised 17 February 2015